Baker Orla Gowen took the scenic route to arrive at where she is today. This native Dubliner now lives in West Kerry where she runs Bácús Bhréanainn, a scratch bakery which supplies artisan breads to cafés, shops and restaurants all over the Dingle Peninsula.
Orla originally worked in hotel management but took time out to focus on her family after the birth of her fourth child. “One of the things I did during that career break was a professional bread-making course in DIT,” she says. “I’d always had an interest in baking so I took that opportunity to pursue it further.”
This was to prove a lifesaver for the family after they moved to Kerry in 2004. They lived on Orla’s artist husband Niall’s income for the first few years but struggled once the recession hit. “By 2009, it was clear that we needed to do something new,” says Orla.
That something was baking. She set up a bakery in the family’s garage, sourced the ingredients she needed and set about building a customer base.
Her first foray into marketing was an open day in the family home. “More than 100 people came, mostly out of curiosity, I think,” laughs Orla. “But they all left impressed by the variety of breads I had for them to taste.”
These breads are made using fresh yeast, the finest flours and traditional methods. Orla doesn’t use preservatives or additives. She finishes her breads by hand, allows time for them to prove naturally and bakes them in stone-floored deck ovens.
She currently makes 25 different varieties, ranging from staples such as brown soda bread and baguettes to flavoured breads like tomato and fennel.
Before long, Orla was asked to supply her local shop in Cloghane. Her next step was to set up stall at farmers’ markets in Dingle, Listowel and Tralee.
She has since moved her bakery into the shop in Cloghane. “The shop was set to close in 2010 and we were asked to help run it,” says Orla.
[pull_quote_center]The opportunity allowed me to operate from bigger premises, which meant I could buy bigger ovens and equipment and ultimately expand the business.[/pull_quote_center]
In the past few years, Orla has targeted hotels and restaurants. “I went after the likes of Ballygarry House Hotel in Tralee, the Killarney Golf Club and Out of the Blue in Dingle,” she says. “We now supply some of the finest hotels and restaurants in the area.”
This is something she’d love to expand further. “It’s a much more dependable income than doing sale or return in shops,” she says.
However, there are obstacles in her way, primarily the low value placed on bread. “There are plenty of places that serve frozen breads that cost them as little as seven cents,” says Orla. “I can’t even try to compete with that.”
Despite such obstacles, Bácús Bhréanainn continues to expand in an organic fashion, relying a lot on word of mouth. “Chefs move around,” says Orla. “If they work with me in one place, they’ll try to work with me in their next place too. That’s what wins me business.”
As a busy baker who struggles to find reliable staff, Orla’s main problem is finding the time for marketing. “I work all hours just to get the bread baked and delivered,” she says. “I’d love more time to develop the business further.”
[quote_box_center]For more information on Bácús Bhréanainn, visit their website.[/quote_box_center]